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Veteran NM franchisee bringing Slim Chickens brand to Farmington

Dennis Ekstrom already operates 12 restaurants across state

FARMINGTON — Farmington diners will see a new entry into the local fast-food market later this year when a veteran New Mexico restaurant franchisee brings the Slim Chickens brand to the city.

Dennis Ekstrom, who owns 12 restaurants across the state, said he has plans to open a Slim Chickens franchise in the former Serious Texas Bar-B-Q restaurant location at 3475 E. Main St. in Farmington. Slim Chickens is an Arkansas-based chain that was launched in 2003 and now operates more than 100 restaurants in locations across the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and Kuwait. It specializes in chicken tenders and wings, but also serves sandwiches, wraps, salads, sides and desserts.

Ekstrom is no stranger to Farmington, having owned the local Denny's diner until 2019. He also owns every Del Taco location in the state, including the one in Farmington.

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"I know Farmington extremely well," he said. "I like it because it's its own town. I like its resources, I like the fact that it's friendly, I like the culture and I like the mix. … I'm comfortable there. It's got a great business market, and it's always been very good to me."

Ekstrom said designs for his new eatery are being completed, and he expects to begin renovation in four to six weeks. The building covers approximately 2,400 square feet, and he anticipates construction will take 90 days, putting its opening date in late summer.

"My goal is to be open by September or late August, if I'm lucky," he said.

The building renovation alone is expected to cost $1 million, Ekstrom said, and he expects to spend another $400,000 to $500,000 on furniture, fixtures and other equipment. The restaurant likely will open with 70 to 80 employees, he said, but over time, that number will decrease to approximately 50.

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The Farmington Slim Chickens location is just one of 10 franchises Ekstrom plans to open in the New Mexico-El Paso market over the next 10 years. Other locations are planned for Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Rio Rancho.

Ekstrom said his perception of the Farmington market when he got into it several years ago was that it was underserved by the national fast food operators. Even though several national chains have moved in the past few years, he believes there is still plenty of room for growth.

"The national brands that are here outperform the national brand average," he said.

He did acknowledge Slim Chickens will face plenty of competition in Farmington, especially from Chick-fil-A, which he described as perhaps his No. 1 rival.

"But I think competition makes people do all the right things," he said. "I love to compete."

Ekstrom said his fast-food franchises have come through the COVID-19 pandemic very well, even though the dine-in segment of the restaurant industry has been very hard hit by the business restrictions that have accompanied efforts to contain the virus. He is bullish about the future of all his fast-food operations.

"That's exactly right," he said. "Drive-thrus have done quite well. We've been kind of the beneficiary of that shift to drive-thrus. … People used to vote with their feet with dine-in, and now they vote with their cars with drive-thrus."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.